Classes are being taught online, but students are seeing real-world impact of lessons in generosity

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — During any other school year, Lisa Savage would be coaching her students on the combined robotics team for Brother Rice and Marian high schools, getting them ready for their next competition. 

The team would be hard at work designing, calibrating and coding a machine to compete against other robots from across the state. Now, she’s leading them in a different fight, using 3D printers and a laser cutter to make masks and face shields for hospital workers battling against COVID-19. 

“We’ve been making shields for two weeks now” Savage told Detroit Catholic. “I have a student running his 3D printer at home, and I have a laser cutter at home. We’re putting together batches of parts, and from there we have up to eight families involved with assembling all those parts into masks.” 

The robotics team’s efforts are part of a growing movement of Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Detroit turning their science departments into COVID-19 response units, making masks and gathering lab equipment and cleaning supplies to donate to local health care providers who are woefully undersupplied.

Lisa Savage, coach of the Brother Rice and Marian co-op robotics team, has been using the school’s equipment to make personal protection equipment materials and have students assemble the PPE at homes.
Savage creates the materials in the school's lab and then sends the material to students’ home for assembly. (Photos courtesy Karen Rottenberk)

Savage said the team is using materials it normally uses to build its robots to quickly turn around masks using designs made available by others. 

The robotics team, a co-op between neighboring all-boys Brother Rice and all-girls Marian high schools, has manufactured 300 masks already for donation to various health care providers in the area, Savage said. About 200 more masks are in the works, and the team has the materials for an additional 500.

“The designs are available, so we took best practices that have been used by other maker groups around the nation and decided to apply them with our machines,” Savage said.

At Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, the Medical Science Club donated unopened boxes of surgical masks and lab coats that would normally be used for students to simulate medical surgeries. 

“We have a Medical Science Club, run by a doctor in the area who brings in some of the supplies and helps us purchase supplies,” said Nicole Hughes, a science teacher at Bishop Foley. “The students try medical supplies on some simulated arms to practice drawing blood; we try to make it as realistic as possible.”

Karen Sucher, school secretary for Holy Family Regional School’s north campus, loaded up her car with latex gloves, hand sanitizer and antiseptic towelettes to donate to Beaumont Hospital in Troy. (Photo courtesy Karen Sucher) 

The masks and coats were donated to Ascension Health after the school heard about others donating personal protection equipment.

“When reaching out to the students, I’ve always emphasized the community need, doing what you can for others,” Hughes said. “The primary focus is to educate students not just in science, but to be servants to your fellow man, servants to people who need it.”

When schools suddenly closed March 17, classrooms were left without students, but with science departments still stocked with medical and cleaning supplies meant to last the remainder of the school year.

It wasn’t long before school administrators realized the items were needed elsewhere. 

Holy Family Regional School in Rochester Hills donated 3,400 latex gloves, bottles of hand sanitizer and 900 antiseptic towelettes and food handler gloves from the school's hot lunch program to William Beaumont Hospital in Troy.

A handwritten note reads in part, “Dear Beaumont staff -- These are from Holy Family Regional School. We wish we had more to donate.”
Karen Sucher, school secretary for Holy Family Regional School’s north campus, gathered up 3,400 latex gloves, bottles of hand sanitizer and antiseptic towelettes from the school to donate to Beaumont Hospital in Troy. 

“My daughter-in-law (Lisa Sucher) is a physician assistant who works at Beaumont and was telling me about the shortages they had,” said Karen Sucher, school secretary of Holy Family’s north campus. “I asked our principal, Jon Myers, if he thought there was something we could do. It would deplete our supplies but help Beaumont.”

So Sucher and her husband “raided” the school’s north and south campuses, gathering all they could to help front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19, a battle that’s personal for Sucher. 

“It just seem logical, because we were not using them and they need them,” Sucher said. “My daughter-in-law is working with COVID patients, so our son, Kevin, and their two kids — 3 and 1 — have moved into our house, because Kevin can’t be with her.”

At St. William School in Walled Lake, middle school science teacher Val Studt was speaking with a friend at Beaumont in Farmington Hills about the need for hand sanitizer and lab goggles. 

“I went into my classroom and collected Lysol wipes, all the Purell we had and all the gloves we had for dissecting,” Studt said. “I put them all in boxes and gave them to my friend at Beaumont, who was so thankful for it; the night before they ran out of Lysol wipes. I must of had about 40 pairs of goggles, 20 from this year and 20 that were older pairs.” 

Val Studt, middle school science teacher at St. William School in Walled Lake, organized a donation of cleaning supplies to Beaumont’s Farmington Hills location. (Photos courtesy Val Studt)
Studt reported doctors and nurses were more than grateful for the donations from the Walled Lake Catholic school.

Studt said she isn’t concerned about not having the equipment for next year; if she needs to pay to replace them, she will, she said.

“The googles don’t cost that much money, and if we need them when school starts again, I can replace them,” Studt said. “People’s lives are more important than what I will do for science class next year.” 

While the donated supplies will help local doctors, nurses and hospitals, what will last longer than the supplies are the lessons teachers and school officials are giving to their students, Savage said.

“What I try to drive home is that students should always look to how they can use their skills to improve the world around them,” Savage said. “There are so many different things out there waiting to be designed to improve the lives of someone else. This is a really great way to improve the quality of life for people.”